Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book – fiction or nonfiction – over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing and video games.
Now there are all sorts of arguments on what constitutes learning and intelligence and that it is possible that an antiquated educational system imposes and over emphasizes book-based activity and testing as true indicators of intelligence.
For an argument on the efficacy of reading over video and other new media forms (and why “experts” who recommend videos for babies are crazy), visit Jacoby’s article and I’ll let her do the heavier intellectual lifting. (I’ve got to start reading more.)
I’ll simply cite an inspirational morsel of wisdom from a friend and one of my favorite people in the world, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones:
You are the same today as you’re going to be in five years except for two things, the people you meet and the books you read.
He shifts the discussion beyond the realm of intelligence to encompass personal change and growth — including an active thought life through books. (He also makes a great case that if you want to be bright and intelligent, you need to start hanging out with bright and intelligent people — and avoiding those with the opposite characteristics. Again, that’s another day and another blog!)
One of the most enduring complaints in life is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Unfortunately, that really does seem to be the case in regard to the most precious commodity in today’s global intelligence society; intellectual capital.
Not a single book in the past year? Not even one? I’m sure that some individuals who fall in that category really are alert and aware — but how many? And I’m positive that some of us who read a lot of books might still fall into the numbed (and dumbed), dazed, and preoccupied category of the mentally saturated who are decently infotained — but not really engaged in the issues of our day with the thoughtfulness and introspection that can only come when you actually know a few things that you can bring to the conversation.
Whatever import you wish to put on actual books — I learn in other ways — I’ll simply agree and say “fine, have at it; whatever works for you.” But for the person who thinks he or she has arrived and doesn’t need a plan for lifelong learning, I’ll quote the great educator and philosopher John Dewey:
The aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education …
Or how about the words of Thomas Jefferson:
I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them, but to inform them by education.
The proliferatin of the written word made Jefferson’s admonition easily accessible to all of us — with or without help from government.
Is America getting dumber and does it matter? I’m not sure but I think there’s a special on E! that answers that question that I’ll try to catch tonight.